The Reality of Repressed Memories
The Recovered Memory Controversy
Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse
Truth or invention: exploring the repressed memory
Professional Organizations on Recovered Memories
CASUALTIES OF WAR
A New War
In more recent times, new fears have arisen. Most of them have grown out of a noble cause: the fight against child abuse. During the late 1970s, American society began to take seriously the problem of abuse, especially sexual abuse. Its prevalence and traumatic effects became widely recognized, and large numbers of professionals began combating the problem. The war on child sexual abuse had begun. But this war had some unintended consequences, as people began acting on fear rather than knowledge.
Ritual Sexual Abuse in Day Care Centers
In the mid 1980s, the news media began reporting accusations that thousands of children were being ritually sexually abused at day care centers across the country. The first case that drew national attention was at the McMartin preschool in California. During intensive questioning by therapists, children described widespread sexual abuse by their caregivers. Similar accusations arose at other day care centers around the nation, where social workers and therapists duplicated the methods of the interviewers at McMartin. Numerous day care workers were charged, convicted, and imprisoned.
According to investigators and legal scholars, it was eventually discovered that these interviews had been highly suggestive and coercive, leading children to please the interviewers by fabricating accounts of events which never happened (see sidebar). Most defendants were exonerated, but only after emotional damage to the children and social and professional devastation to the day care workers. Some continue to languish in prison.
Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse
At about the same time, large numbers of adult women began to suspect they had been abused by their parents in childhood, but had repressed their memories of the abuse. Some came to this conclusion after reading popular books on the subject, while others were led to this belief by therapists who thought that most psychological problems among women were caused by childhood sexual abuse. These therapists told their patients that healing required specialized therapy to help them recover their repressed memories. Also, the women were encouraged to confront their parents and to pursue criminal charges against them as part of their healing.
However, according to researchers, evidence does not support the theory of repressed memories.
little or no empirical support for such a theory...there is a
consensus among memory researchers and clinicians that most people who
were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened
to them...these leaders also agree that it is possible to construct
convincing pseudomemories for events that never occurred...The issue of
repressed or suggested memories has been overreported and
sensationalized by the news media.”
Nevertheless, parents found themselves accused of horrific crimes, and were often assumed to be guilty until proved innocent. Families were torn apart as they were forced to choose between allegiance to the parents or the daughter. Rather than being healed, the women became more and more distraught, unable to function in their own families and jobs. For many, the consequences included divorce, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other severe psychiatric symptoms.
Sexually Deviant Children
At the same time that large numbers of children were being interviewed for suspected abuse at day care centers, a few of their interviewers were coming to believe they had discovered another frightening phenomenon among these children: sexual deviance. They began writing articles and speaking to professional groups about their discovery. In spite of the lack of scientific underpinnings for their work, their teachings spread rapidly across the country, leading to a new category of childhood illness and an array of psychologically and ethically problematic therapies. That is the subject of this site.
When experts are wrong
Casualties of war
Lack of knowledge
Humiliation as therapy
Convos with providers